We hear about empty nest, that phase of life when the kids are grown, the career has topped out below where we thought it would, and the house isn’t nearly as paid off as we’d hoped. By our mid-forties, we can be dealing with a lot of disappointment, and unmet expectations.
Turns out, we might also be dealing with more loneliness between the age of 45-65 than at any other time in life. Think about that. Think about how horrendously isolated we felt in middle school, how hard the first freshman term was, how tough moving to a new city was… and that stretch between 45-65 can be even harder.
The reasons include a spike in divorces when marriages hit 17 years, a lousy economy that keeps us working more and socializing less, smaller families, a job market that means we move frequently to remain employed or climb the career ladder, among other factors. Our peers start to die on us as we’re pushing fifty, and our energy for anything–much less being social–can start to decline.
But letting friendships lapse is not smart, according some of the science on the subject. Loneliness can be as bad for our physical and mental health as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day, carrying significant extra weight, or drinking too much. Lonely people are more likely to die early, suffer a heart attack or stroke, or suffer compromised immunity than are people who have friends.
We’ve long known that having a support network is critical in recovery from many major illnesses, and that the stereotype of the entirely self-reliant rugged individual is a set-up for all kinds of misery if taken to extremes. Lonely people are prey to feelings of anxiety and hostility, and social withdrawal can become a downward spiral.
All very daunting… and for most of us, avoidable. Meeting a writin’ buddy or a reader for a cup of tea might be just as important for my wellbeing as getting on that old tread desk, and it’s a lot more fun. Dropping an email to my sister takes five minutes, and probably does me as much good as some of those supplements I buy. Taking yard flowers to the neighbor costs me nothing, but gives us both a smile.
I’m not naturally social, but when I read these studies, and consider that I might live to be 100, the importance of creating and maintaining friendships become obvious.
Who is your best friend? Are there good friends you haven’t heard from in a while? Have your friends ever come through for you in a way that surprised you? To one commenter, I’ll send a signed copy of Gareth: Lord of Rakes (seen here sporting his new print cover). His lordship desperately needed a few good friends…. and it only took him 400 pages to find them.